Valeisha Butterfield Jones inspires others to disrupt the cultural landscape through philanthropy

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“What keeps me up at night is the opportunity to start shaping and reimagining our approach and the role we all play in driving change,” said Valeisha Butterfield Jones, as she addressed nearly 200 participants in the first-ever, all-virtual African American Philanthropy Summit on May 30. “2020 Vision: Disrupting the Cultural Landscape Through Philanthropy,” hosted by the Cleveland Foundation African American Philanthropy Committee (AAPC), convened powerful voices from the philanthropic community for an important discussion around strategic giving and how to raise the visibility of those with the passion and drive to create meaningful change.

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Business leader Valeisha Butterfield Jones addresses attendees of the virtual African American Philanthropy Committee Summit on May 30.

A well-rounded business leader, Valeisha, Co-Founder and CEO of the Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network (WEEN), has a deep passion for community inclusion at the intersections of technology, politics and entertainment. As the Summit’s Featured Speaker, she discussed her thoughts on how strategic giving can be a compass for transformational change during uncertain times.

“At this moment in time in our history, we’re in a crisis,” the Los Angeles resident said. “But we have the ability and resources within our grasp to actually drive change.”

The conversation, moderated by Baltimore’s Jeff Johnson, AAPC Committee Member and Chief Curator for Men Thrive, centered around the dual crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism, and how the powerful tradition of giving in the African American community can help shift the philanthropic landscape to create much needed change. “Conversations are always the first step,” Jeff Johnson said, as he posed questions around inclusion and diversity at the executive level of the philanthropic and business communities.

“Our community needs us now more than ever,” said African American Philanthropy Committee Co-Chair Ron Johnson of Cleveland. While the COVID-19 pandemic changed the format of the 2020 Summit, which the committee historically convenes every two years as an in-person gathering, Johnson said the crisis only underscores the significance of the event. He added that the net proceeds from the 2020 Summit will be donated to the AAPC Legacy Fund, from which the African American Philanthropy Committee plans to grant $25,000 to vital nonprofit organizations in the community helping those impacted by the current pandemic.

Valeisha encouraged attendees to think beyond traditional philanthropy, pointing to investing in African American entrepreneurs as an innovative way to give and create community-wide success. “African American women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs,” she said. “Develop and scale up those businesses, and that will help the entire community.”

She also challenged her fellow philanthropists and business leaders to identify and support emerging leaders to keep the talent pipeline strong. “We need fresh talent and young ideas,” she said.

“There is power in sharing our story,” added Cleveland business leader Dr. Ellen Burts-Cooper, African American Philanthropy Committee Co-Chair and Senior Managing Partner of Improve Consulting and Training Group, as she encouraged attendees to commit to one action that would create an impact on the community.

Times of crisis create challenges, Valeisha said, but also opportunities and urgency for transformation. “We don’t have time to procrastinate,” she said. “The opportunity to work boldly is right in front of us.”

Learn more about the Cleveland Foundation African American Philanthropy Committee or give to the African American Philanthropy Committee Legacy Fund.